A lot has changed since 1989
I am at home sick today, and I am feeling energetic enough after some hours of rest to do some writing. Getting sick is something that clears my mind, mostly because it gives me a break from my commute, job, and parenting responsibilities. This has allowed me to think about our current era as it relates to larger world-historical trends, and the thoughts aren't good.
The revolutions of 1989 and the international community's response to the genocide in Bosnia made me feel for a time in the 1990s that though we had certainly not reached an "end of history" that the future of the globe was going to contain plenty of conflict, but generally be more peaceful and democratic than it had been in the past. After 9/11, it seemed that I had been very much wrong. The international policing imperative that had been used to save the people of Bosnia and Kosovo from mass murder was used to justify the disastrous war in Iraq. Likewise, I once saw anti-globalism as an important corrective from the left against the ravages of capitalism. The 1999 Seattle protests were, to me, a sign that the excesses of the post Fall of the Wall neoliberalism were about to be pushed back. Now anti-globalization is the currency of a resurgent, international neo-fascism which has captured the presidency of the United States. The 1990s held out the prospect of international agreements arresting the advance of global warming, now they seem doomed.
I have been feeling whiplash about the world historical moment since the Brexit vote last year. As I said at the time, it appears that the whole post-World War II order, which the leaders of the West tried to extend after the of the Cold War, is falling apart. International institutions of that order like the EU are shaking. The United States is abdicating its global leadership role, leaving a massive power vacuum that states like China and Russia (and now perhaps Germany) are yearning to fill. Similarly, the Middle East looks to be breaking down into a general conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Nationalism and chauvinism are on the rise everywhere, bringing with them authoritarianism. On top of all of this, climate will bring greater misery and cause for conflict in a world where the possibilities of international mediation are shrinking.
Looking at the dire state of things, I am becoming more and more convinced that only revolutionary changes will be sufficient to solve the current crisis, especially in regards to climate change. However, the means for revolutionary change in many places have been broken. Take the United States, where labor unions have been broken and communal life generally is practically non-existent. Consumer capaitalism, as long as it keeps the gadgets flowing and credit available, will keep most people complacent. Independent media is being swallowed up, and ethnic and racial divisions have been doing their traditional work. Most white people still prefer "the wages of whiteness" to solidarity with people of color. Social media only reinforces these boundaries.
As much as I detest Donald Trump, he is the product of his times. After he is gone, the forces that produced him will still be here. I don't have all the answers, but I do know that any path to a more peaceful and democratic future means radically changing the fundamentals of our political-economy. I just don't see that happening, and that realization is one that fills me with dread.
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